By Joel Fox, Sacramento Bee | When state Sens. Nancy Skinner, D-Berkeley, and Holly Mitchell, D-Los Angeles, introduce a split roll property tax to increase taxes on business property, you’ll hear arguments from advocates that the tax money is for the schools and local services such as libraries and police. In actuality, the measure is a tax to fund public employee pensions and health care costs.
Public pensions continue to eat away at state, local and school budgets. A number of cities pay more than 15 percent of their general fund budgets for pensions and retiree health care. Sacramento is over 17 percent. Los Angeles is at 20 percent, up from under just 5 percent a decade-and-a-half ago.
When cities must spend so much more than they have spent historically for employee benefits, reductions have to be made in other areas. In the East Bay city of Richmond, for example, staff positions have been cut, library spending is down, after-school programs have been reduced and still city officials worry that Richmond will follow other California cities into bankruptcy. It’s easy to understand why when pension debt and health care is projected to take 41 percent of the city’s general fund in five years.
School funding has been dramatically boosted recently, especially with tax increases on the state and local levels earmarked for schools. But school officials still say they don’t have enough money, and when you look at the pension debt you understand.
A new actuarial report tabs the California State Teachers Retirement System (CalSTRS) funded at 63.7 percent with an unfunded liability of $96.7 billion. That is an eye-popping $20 billion more than the previous year.